The dances of Pakeezah are of course quite extraordinary and are in tune with the exquisite lyrics. Here Kamal Amrohi deliberately develops a unique style in which rather than the fast chatpata rhythms with a superficial kathak base, he uses a languorous, deliberate and rigourous classical style. As mentioned earlier, the two dances in Gulabi Mahal are unlike many filmi mujra numbers. Meena Kumari makes herself an object of desire by distancing herself from her admirers, presenting herself as a prize difficult to obtain instead of flirting with them seductively as done in many mujra numbers. Even Rekha in her ‘Dil cheez kya hai' in Umrao Jaan is more forward than Meena Kumari in her mujra.
—Meghnad Desai, Pakeezah
In the songs “Chalte Chalte” and “Thare Rahiyo” which Sahibjaan performs amidst the grandeur of Gulabi Mahal, she frequently isolates herself from her patrons both physically and mentally. Though there are many subtle addresses to them, as the text says, she still places herself at a distance. I think the most expressively different part of these two mujras however, is the way Sahibjaan (and Meena Kumari in her trademark way) claims her space or her stage, despite always being painfully conscious of how societal standards deem her an “impure” woman and thus undeserving of such a privilege. In these songs she tends to spend long scenes facing away from her audience and even leisurely walking around the scenic Gulabi Mahal, further and further away from the patrons. And frequently her thoughts are led to her ongoing infatuation with a stranger which, while melding seamlessly into the themes of the songs, also shift the knowledgeable viewers’ perception of her performance as one of self-contemplation rather than entertainment. This atmosphere and Sahibjaan’s control of performing space is different from many other “courtesan dramas” that were popular throughout the 20th century, which usually showed crowded, cramped spaces where the raucous male gaze surrounded and intruded that stage.
How Haleem Got All Hot and Heavy in Hyderabad Once a rare Iftar treat that you’d find only in the Old City, now it’s everywhere, sometimes in startling new avatars. A story of ghee, machismo and big money. By Vivekananda Nemana.